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But Why Furries?

29 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t guessed by the fact that I’m using an alias that uses the last name of “Rabbit,” I’m a furry. I assume that for the most part you already know that if you’re reading this blog, but before I dive in to my post for the day I’d like to take a minute to address that. If you’re new to the whole furry situation, just let me say that I know it might seem weird, but I’ll do my best to cover furry topics in a way that makes sense to fellow enthusiasts and folks who have no knowledge of the fandom alike. If you’ve got questions, I’m more than happy to answer them! I can’t speak for the entirety of the subculture, but I’m glad to give my perspective. If you’re not quite clear on what a furry is, I recommend this page. It should tell you everything you need to know.
We’re all on the same page (nyuk)? Good! Here we go.

There was a pretty interesting discussion over on Flayrah a couple weeks back, concerning Fred Patten’s review of Roar #4. He mentioned that a lot of the stories were mediocre, mostly because they were “barely furry” — which meant that the anthropomorphism of the characters really didn’t account for much in either the setting or character mind-set. This prompted a controversy that I’m surprised still rages. Writers are still struggling over the idea of whether or not a story’s quality should be tied to how well the furry concept is used. There seem to be two camps in this argument — one says that it shouldn’t matter whether or not a character’s “furriness” is important to the story, that it should be considered on other basic strengths; and the other says that a story that ignores the “furriness” of its characters is automatically lessened.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here; I’m in the latter camp. But before you scroll down to the comment form to tell me how wrong I am, hear me out! I’m going to try to make my argument as flamelessly as possible, because I think I’m right but more importantly because I think it’s important that we have a reasonable discussion about this. I want to prove that what I’m saying is true, yes, but I also want to do it in a way that doesn’t make the people who disagree with me feel like their work or ideas are diminished in the process.

First, I think it’s safe to say that furry is a sub-genre of the broader sci-fi/fantasy umbrella. Like other supernatural or extraordinary creatures we love to write and read about in literature, furries have a certain set of traits that have come to be associated with them. Foxes are sly, for example. Mice are nervous. Wolves are easily agitated, so forth and so on. We tend to have a myopic view of our own fandom, and we don’t see where we fit in a broader context, but I’d like to put that out there. Most of us are no different from those folks who love vampires, or werewolves, or aliens. We might take it a bit farther than your general sci-fi/fantasy fan, but I think the basic premise is still there. In the literary world, furry fiction has its place on the shelf quite near modern fantasy, vampire novels, or alien-contact stories.

If we accept that, then we also have to accept the idea that people who read these stories are coming to them to scratch a particular itch. The exact nature of that itch might vary from reader to reader. People who are into werewolves might like them because they represent the barely restrained savagery present in every man, or because they think it’s cool to turn into a hulking, dangerous beast and rip shit up. Your mileage may vary, but fans of certain sub-genres are all looking to get that fix, let’s say.

Furry fans are no different. We come to furry fiction looking for what attracts us to the genre, and for a lot of us that’s the rather distinct blend of anthropomorphism — what would it be like to live in a world where a very wide range of species lived in a society as equals, more-or-less? How would it feel different, physically, to have a thick coat of fur covering your body? Or to have heightened senses? Or a tail? For most of us, furry characters are aesthetically, emotionally or spiritually attractive. There’s something there that draws us.

As a furry writer, you have to understand that. People are reading your story hoping to get a glimpse of a fantastic reality. If you write a story that brings the fantastic down to the mundane, you’re doing your readers — and the story — a disservice.

Think of it this way: imagine someone writing a vampire novel where the main character’s being a vampire has absolutely no bearing on the story. Every once in a while there’s the description of her fangs, or their pale skin, or taking a bottle of blood from the fridge. But for the most part, it doesn’t matter. She walks around in daylight, she can see her reflection, just gets annoyed if you stab her in the chest with a pencil. There’s no inversion of the expected tropes, or any reason why they’re ignored. They simply are. The story is really a slice-of-life tale about four people finding themselves in college.

It might even be a great slice-of-life story, but the fact that a vampire’s been included for no discernable reason is going to be a distraction at best. The same holds true for furries. Making your characters furry and then all but ignoring the fact that they are is equivalent, in my view.

This goes beyond following a formula for your art, or doing something that doesn’t make sense in your story. Most people who want furries to be no big deal state that it shouldn’t matter what species your characters are; their characterization should be the only thing that matters. I’ve heard the argument that tight writing should be the utmost concern in fiction, and I’ll agree there. But here’s the thing; if you go out of your way to describe your main character as a fantastic creature and your setting in a fantastic world, but then promptly ignore it, your writing isn’t tight. If there is no reason for your character to be furry or your setting to take place in a furry world, then furries should have no place in your story. If the real point of your story is the character’s journey or some other thing, why distract from it by adding in the needless complication of anthropomorphism?

Ultimately, this is about standards. I believe that the standards for the fiction we publish in the fandom should be as high as it is for other sub-genres of science fiction and fantasy. Other groups demand a certain tightness to the writing in their genres, and ours is big enough where we should start raising the bar for what we show to the world. We have writers who are more than capable of rising to that challenge, too. It’s a very good time for furry fiction publishing. Why not strive to do the best we can at it?

I’m not saying that all furry stories have to be ABOUT the furriness of its characters. I don’t even think it needs to be a major element of the plot. It does have to be recognized, however, and the physicality of the characters should be acknowledged as a part of their make-up. Small details like a thick coat of fur, a really great sense of smell or hearing, or the awkwardness of a tail in dealing with furniture that hasn’t accounted for it or all things that you can use to give your world and characters weight, and to heighten a sense of realism that helps your audience buy into your setting. Just give them that much, that’s it, and then you can work with the other things that you want to get to.

In sharp, tight writing, the author uses everything that’s mentioned. There’s nothing in a story without a reason. Even minor details, like someone’s green eyes or the smell of old books, helps to give the setting a realness that pulls us into the story and primes us for an emotional response. Something that’s included “just because” indicates writing that isn’t as lean or crisp as it could be, and cutting away the stuff that doesn’t serve your story should definitely happen if you want to bring it to a high standard.

If you include furry characters in your fiction, there should be a reason. Even if you just want to have them in your story, because you find that you’ll care about them more, think about the traits that your character has that endears them to you more than a human version. Use that to hook your audience the way you’ve been hooked. Communicate what you like about your protagonist to your readers, and they’ll have an easier time liking them as well.

I think it’s important to think about every detail you put into your story if you want to be published or viewed as an author. Clarity is the product of that foresight, and your story can’t help but be better for it. If your audience is asking questions that you didn’t lead them to ask (like “Why furries?”), then it indicates your story could stand to be a bit more clear. It’s not easy to gain that level of preciseness over your writing, but that’s part of our journey and learning our craft. It’s a totally worthwhile thing to cultivate.

All right, I think I’ve rambled long enough, which is a terrible thing to say after giving a lecture on clarity. But hey, I’m still learning! Now, let’s hear from you: what do you think about how furry characters should fit into a short story? Do you agree that it’s a fundamental issue of writing good fiction? Or do you think I’m some pretentious wannabe who’s full of it? I look forward to your (respectful) comments.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Better Living Through Stories, Furries, Writing

 

4 responses to “But Why Furries?

  1. Shelby Green

    August 29, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    I agree with you on this exactly. If the character being a furry or specific alien type has little to no impact on the story then the only reason for changing the design would be for sensationalism, or pandering. Which is, I suppose, pretty much the same thing. Making a character a stereotype, whether its based on a real or imagined race, to fill in for nuanced characters is just lazy narrative.

     
  2. Cooner (@WTFcooner)

    August 29, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    You remind me of a battle from the early, nascent days of fandom, over what furry was and what it should be called. I’m not sure if it’s the exact same thing, but it seems to bear some of the elements you’re talking about.

    In one camp were the “furries” similar to what you’re describing: their “furriness” was an essential element to their character, an alienness that made them fantastical and non-human, which needed to be addressed when dealing with them. Another camp was what at the time was usually called “funny animals”: They look like an animal, and their species may suggest character traits which will be either archetypal or subverted; but their personality is essentially human.

    Think about Bugs Bunny. He’s a “rabbit” in that he lives in a hole in the ground and eats carrots and gets shot at by hunters, but his personality and reactions are very human and un-rabbit-like. What references to his being a rabbit there are are usually played up for humor rather than deep insight into his personality. I guess you could argue whether Bugs Bunny counts as a “furry,” but he is the example people always seem to bring up when explaining the fandom to newbies.

    In time, of course, the term “furry” won out over everything and that debate kind of subsided into the background, but I see elements of it in your article here. I guess I would say, I’m always torn in any situation where people are trying to juggle between demanding quality on the one hand and making arbitrary limits one what is or is not acceptable on the other. I guess, ultimately, I’d say that yes, it’s all too easy to write a weak story using furry characters in a way that doesn’t speak to the fact that the characters are furry at all. But at the same time it’s possible to write a good story with funny animals being used as a literary device that is something other than alien furry personality exploration.

     
  3. Bahumat

    August 30, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    In full agreement with you, Jakebe. It drives me nuts to read or write furry fiction wherein the anthropomorphism is cosmetic only, and has no bearing on the story or characters as a whole.

     

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